Bombs Away? A Reagan-Trump Comparison

President Trump has stirred the criticism pot with his military actions: striking an air base in Syria and using the largest bomb in the US arsenal to destroy terrorists’ caves in Afghanistan. It has led some to question exactly what authority a president has to use the military without first consulting Congress.

That’s an important question because the Constitution gives Congress the authority to declare war, not any president unilaterally. Of course, Congress hasn’t passed an actual war declaration since WWII. All of our actions militarily since then have either been in conjunction with the UN (Korea, Persian Gulf War) or with tacit approval of Congress to defend American lives (Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq). The latter were with congressional resolutions that fall short of true declarations.

Yet are there times when a president cannot wait for Congress to debate a matter because surprise is essential? Can the use of the military for one specific action be taken by presidential authority without a full declaration of war?

Let’s look at the Reagan years for a couple of examples.

In 1983, a militant pro-Castro faction overthrew the government of Maurice Bishop, a moderate Marxist, on the island of Grenada. Reagan immediately understood the implications of the coup: if the new government survived, a third Cuba (Marxist Nicaragua was viewed as the second Cuba in Reagan’s mind) would have come into existence during his watch. Grenada would become another Soviet client-state in the Western hemisphere.

The new Grenadian administration brought in 600 Cubans to construct an airstrip that could accommodate large military planes. This worried not only the US but other island-nations in the region. Prime Minister Eugenia Charles of Dominica came to the White House to share her concerns with Reagan and ask for help.

Another factor Reagan had to take under consideration was several hundred Americans who were attending a medical school on the island. He wanted to ensure their safety, but knew that if word got out that action was being contemplated, those Americans could easily become hostages. The threat of another Iranian-type hostage situation loomed.

So, for national security reasons and fear for the safety of American lives, Reagan chose to act swiftly and as quietly as possible. He did bring in congressional leadership, both Republican and Democrat, before taking action, informing them of the situation. He got the go-ahead from them to proceed.

On October 25, Reagan sent 10,000 U.S. marines and army airborne troops to invade the island. All resistance was eliminated after three days of fighting. At first, some members of Congress were outraged, but public support for the invasion soared as TV coverage featured interviews with the grateful American students.

Then there was Libya in 1986.

This radical Islamic state ruled by strongman Muammar Qaddafi had used its oil revenues to bankroll terrorists in Europe and the Middle East. On April 15, 1986, having concluded that Libya had supported and financed the bombing of a nightclub in Berlin frequented by American military personnel, Reagan ordered the bombing of five targets in Libya, including the presidential palace.

Reagan wanted to send a message to Qaddafi that he needed to back off his financial support for terrorism, and that he should think twice before aiding and abetting attacks that might kill and injure US soldiers.

Again, Reagan felt that giving advance warning for this punitive action would allow Libya to prepare for it and minimize the damage. He had already publicly proclaimed the US perspective on Libya and other nations directly involved with terrorism when he said in a speech that Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Libya were “outlaw states run by the strangest collection of misfits, loony-tunes and squalid criminals since the advent of the Third Reich.” Of Qaddafi, he said, “He’s not only a barbarian, he’s flaky.”

In both of these instances, Reagan took into consideration national security and saving the lives of American citizens. Both actions were short-term, not full-fledged wars, and required secrecy for their success.

Trump’s decisions have to be evaluated in that same light. I have no problem with the Afghanistan bombing, as it is part of an ongoing effort to eliminate terrorism aimed at America. It would be nice, though, for Congress to go the whole way for a declaration of war and make it more constitutional. Yet I realize that it is difficult in this situation because terrorism is not confined to one nation; it is a continuing problem that pops up everywhere.

As for Syria, I have mixed feelings. Trump apparently decided to go ahead with that bombing because of the use of chemical weapons on Syrian citizens. He saw pictures of the results and was horrified. Who wouldn’t be?

But was there a direct danger to American citizens over Syria’s use of chemical weapons? Was our national security threatened by this terrible action? We are a compassionate people who want to stop atrocities, but can we do that everywhere in the world? Aren’t atrocities occurring in many nations? Where do we strike and where do we not?

Decisions need to be made on the basis of national security and saving American lives first and foremost. Other reasons may enter in as well, but there needs to be a compelling need to act; we can’t merely make emotional decisions.

My concern is that Trump often makes decisions based on emotion. He has little understanding of constitutional authority and limitations; neither does he care to learn.

While I can inwardly cheer that the bombing in Syria sends a message, I can wonder about the wisdom of that decision and whether it really accomplished its purposes.

My concerns about how Trump makes decisions and whether he has any bedrock principles have never gone away. I’m also concerned that too many Americans don’t care about those principles. Yet without a proper understanding of the rule of law, we are in trouble.

Merely Tactical Setbacks

In a Memorial Day speech yesterday, President Obama said we should rejoice because for the first time in a long time American troops are not fighting in an overseas war. He even mentioned Afghanistan, where 10,000 Americans are still on active duty. The news report I was watching also commented that 3500 American military personnel continue to work with the Iraqi army.

So how is that a testimony to complete withdrawal from overseas conflicts? He did what he does so often—make a blatant statement of supposed fact that is at odds with the facts.

Even this late—more than six years into his presidency—he still acts like all the problems in the Middle East are due to George W. Bush. You can criticize Bush’s policies, and I think there is ground for criticism, but a direct comparison of the two presidents’ actions show rather stark differences:

Legacy

If you think Bush was mistaken in toppling Saddam Hussein, and that the aftermath of that was particularly messy, one thing to remember is that when he left office, he also bequeathed to Obama an Iraq on the verge of stability. Obama’s decision to pull out all troops, despite the advice of the military, has led to the chaos that is ISIS.

One wonders what, in fact, his overall strategy really is. Look the other way and pretend that everything is fine?

Strategy

Since he is so adept at comparing himself with his predecessor, here’s another apt comparison:

Success

At least George Bush recognized when his strategy needed to be altered, based on the situation. Obama just waltzes along as if all is great. Three of the four major cities in Iraq now under the control of ISIS? No problem. Our strategy is working, he assures us. The latest disaster is merely a tactical setback, not a failure of strategy. How long will he keep saying that?

Tactical Setback

Far-fetched? I’m not so sure.

The Middle East Mess: Obama Disconnected

The Middle East is more of a mess with each passing day. And we helped. The major player now in that area is not the United States but Iran, which is actively exporting its Islamist ideology. I know that George Bush’s actions can be critiqued, but at least when he decided to unleash a surge in Iraq, it worked. Radical elements in that country were set back significantly. Iraq, for the first time in quite a while, experienced something approaching stability.

That has now changed.

Anyone remember the city of Fallujah? It was Islamist Central until we finally brought it under control. The same with the city of Ramadi. What’s happening now? Fallujah is now back under the domination of Al Qaeda. There is no longer any Iraqi government presence there; the Al Qaeda flag is flying from all the buildings. Ramadi is now a battleground, prepared to go the same way.

Barack Obama inherited a fairly stable Iraq, but instead of keeping a small force there to maintain stability, he chose to pull out completely. When’s the last time you heard him say anything about Iraq? He seems to have forgotten it, and apparently doesn’t much care what happens. He never believed in our intervention there in the first place, so he’s disconnected to events on the ground. Being disconnected to events is one of the themes of his governance.

What about Afghanistan? We’re about to see the same scenario play out there. Even though Obama once said this was the right war, one he could support, he’s in the process of pulling an Iraq in Afghanistan. The Taliban, who were driven from the country, are now reentering. Instability is on the rise. Another tragedy is in the offing.

Behind all of this is the belligerence of Iran, the big power now in the region. It continues to develop nuclear capability, while we pretend its leaders are becoming more moderate. The “deal” Obama-Kerry want to solidify with that rogue nation has no mechanism to stop Iran’s drive toward domination, including a publicly stated intent to destroy Israel once it attains nuclear status. There’s a lot of posturing going on that belies the reality:

Sheep & Wolf

It’s always easy to talk tough, but one must have the stomach and backbone to follow through with action. Maybe that’s what’s missing:

Too Transparent

Given the opportunity to make his mark and stand up to Iran, our leader chose another path:

Iran

We are not in a good place. Unless there is a jarring wake-up call to this administration, things are going to get worse, much worse, very soon.

Obama & Syria: Further Reasons for Opposition

A Senate hearing yesterday on the Syrian situation and the administration’s desire to get involved militarily constrains me to comment once again on this topic. My last post laid out some of my rationale for opposing involvement: neither side deserves our help; we will either be aiding a dictatorial regime allied with Iran or an uprising with a distinctly Al Qaeda flavoring. I have a few more thoughts to add today.

First, it’s interesting how this is not a purely partisan issue. Many conservatives who supported military moves in Afghanistan and Iraq are not now supportive of this initiative, whereas diehard liberal activists who would scream against any military endeavor anywhere are strangely silent (except for a few Code Pink fanatics who are at least consistent in their wild-eyed fanaticism). One cartoon captures the liberal side pretty well:

Antiwar Activist

As for the conservative reluctance to sign on to military strikes, there is some poor analysis of that reluctance showing up in surprising places. For instance, I was watching Bill O’Reilly last night, and he focused more on the conservative side and tried to explain why they were generally not supportive of Obama’s desire to bomb Syrian targets. He concluded it was because conservatives either hate or don’t trust the president. While there certainly is hatred of what this president stands for overall and distrust of him personally and of his ability to carry out the mission, it is a leap too far to say that’s the cornerstone of opposition to his proposed policy.

I see a qualitative difference between our involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq and the current situation in Syria. Afghanistan was harboring the Al Qaeda terrorists who carried out 9/11. We were obligated to respond to an attack on our soil that killed nearly 3,000 people. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had invaded Kuwait in the early 1990s and a coalition of many nations drove him out. The U.S. was left with the responsibility of overseeing Saddam’s regime to ensure he didn’t kill Iraqi opposition groups and to monitor his chemical and nuclear weapons capabilities. After 9/11, when it became clear he was allowing Al Qaeda elements to operate from Iraq, and when we learned he was encouraging suicide bombers by paying families of those who carried out those atrocities, President Bush felt he had to act.

Isn’t it a little ironic that those who decried Bush’s rationale—Saddam had chemical weapons—are now so exercised over Syrian use of those weapons? And isn’t it even more ironic that those who scoffed at the idea that Saddam quickly moved those weapons to Syria are now in the forefront of moral outrage over their usage there?

I’m also less than overwhelmed with the military plans being offered. If you are going to use the military, it needs to efficiently achieve a goal of turning the tide against the Syrian regime. Apparently, that’s not what’s being proposed. John Kerry, at the Senate hearing, downplayed regime change as the ultimate aim; all we’re planning to do is try to discourage the further use of chemical weapons by Assad. If Assad is really all that bad—and he is—the only good rationale for getting involved is to go all out and drive him from power. That doesn’t seem to be the vision here:

Strong Message

This would be a highly ineffectual mission. It’s not worth the effort. Besides, if we’re truly concerned with stabilizing the region, we need to go after the primary destabilizer—Iran. They’re the ones on the verge of creating nuclear weapons. They’re the ones who have verbally called for the elimination of Israel. Yet what have we done on that front? Just talk and threaten. Frankly, no one takes us seriously anymore. Why should they with this man in the White House? Let’s be honest. His sympathies lie with the radical elements; that’s how he was educated, and it’s how he has governed. He supported the Muslim Brotherhood takeover of Egypt, yet he is cool toward the ouster of that Brotherhood. He is for the uprising in Syria because of its radical nature, not in spite of it.

Here’s what a compassionate nation does in this situation: we use every effort to help the refugees who are daily escaping this conflict. We demonstrate once again that the United States, more than any other nation in history, comes to the aid of those who are suffering. The only problem is that we’re not the same United States anymore—not with Barack Obama at the helm.

So, to some extent, Bill O’Reilly is correct; I don’t trust the man calling the shots. But it’s not just the man himself: it’s his ideology, the policies that flow from it, and the damage he is doing to what once was the greatest nation in the world.

Priorities

News from Afghanistan and the War on Terror doesn’t look good:

President Obama’s performance hasn’t inspired much confidence either:

And just when we need to be vigilant, here’s his new approach, along with his party in Congress:

Well, you know, they have different priorities:

We Need a Guidebook for Double Standards

Hamid Karzai now says U.S. soldiers who burned Qurans should be turned over to the Afghan government to stand trial for their despicable act. Yet, at the same time, he admits the destruction of the Qurans was not intentional. Someone needs to take a course in logic. Karzai is well known for his corruption. What a great friend.

 

Apologizing to thugs and bullies, even if dressed up in religious garb, always has the same result. They lose respect for you. I say that advisedly because I believe when anyone does something wrong, one should apologize. But it’s wasted on those who are immersed in a hateful ideology. When the president apologized, I think he forgot something:

Maybe he just hasn’t gone far enough to make things right. Here’s another step he could take:

So how are we supposed to deal with those whose traditions are different than ours? We need a guidebook:

The double standard is alive and well.

More from the Religion of Peace

The riots go on . . . and on. Some NATO personnel carelessly burn Qurans that terrorists had been using to pass secret messages, and the Afghan population goes wild. Two U.S. soldiers are killed, then two U.S. military advisers, who should have been safe in one of the government buildings, are shot and killed by one of the Afghan security force personnel they have been training.

The riots escalate. No matter that President Obama sent over an apology. What has transpired is an insult to Islam, as apparently is most everything a Westerner does. It’s time to take to the streets, express outrage, call for the killing of Americans, and forget that the Taliban ran a brutal operation before our arrival. They don’t care; they prefer the Taliban.

It’s just another normal day with the religion of peace.

In Iran, we are now told that pastor Youcef Nadarkhani is scheduled to be executed. His crime? Being a Christian and refusing to recant his beliefs. At one point, Iran seemed to realize that putting someone to death simply for being a Christian might affect their public relations, so they declared his real crimes were rape and extortion. That was so blatantly phony, no one bought it. The international “community,” such as it is, is now asking the Iranian government not to follow through on the execution. If that government doesn’t listen to the request, no big deal; the “community” will go back to its appeasement policy.

Personally, I have no problem with some kind of apology for the original action of burning the Qurans. Even though I don’t consider it a holy book, and the action definitely not a crime of any sort, we should avoid inflaming an already inflammatory situation. But the sense of proportion is out of whack. Where is the Afghan government’s apology for the out-of-control, fanatical response to the incident? Which is really worse, burning some books out of carelessness or mobs racing through the streets trying to kill Americans—and succeeding?

If President Obama is so sensitive to religious beliefs, I await his reversal of policy on the HHS mandates that violate religious liberty in his own country.

Is there really any hope for helping Afghanistan or should we just wash our hands of the whole country? An emotional response is that we leave them to their own fate. Unfortunately, that fate may be the return of the Taliban and outright coordination once again with Al Qaeda. This is very much one of those between-a-rock-and-a-hard-place decisions.

As for pastor Youcef, it would take a miracle now to save him in this life. His martyrdom, should it occur, will be a travesty of justice, but also a grim reminder that Christians need to come to grips with reality. Western Christians, in particular, have never had to face this type of persecution. This should lead us into sober reflection and an examination of our own hearts before God. Is our faith genuine? Would we face death as unflinchingly as Youcef Nadarkhani?

We may have to answer that question someday because the religion of peace may put that question to us.